In January 2016, Lyndon Way was heading for the Atatürk Theatre in İzmir, western Turkey, to see the band Grup Yorum. “When we arrived outside,” says the music academic, “we were greeted by police in helmets, riot gear and shields blocking the path to the concert hall.” In the street battles that ensued, he says, police used water cannon and pepper spray on approximately 50 young people, mostly men.
“One by one, the protesters were separated and dragged on to waiting police vans. The authorities had cancelled the concert at the last moment and arrested the group. There was no news about the cancellation or the arrests in mainstream media.” Way, who is now a lecturer in media and communications at Liverpool Hope University, says the clash showed “how fans and the authorities view the band – fans will do battle for them while the authorities are afraid of them”.
This folk-rock band – who use Turkish instruments, sing traditional songs and perform in sensible white shirts and chinos – may not at first look like a radical act. But 11 of the current members of Grup Yorum (“yorum” means “comment”) remain in prison in Turkey, after being arrested last year – the latest intervention that its musicians have endured since the band was formed by university students in the mid-80s.
More of a collective than a band, they have released over 20 albums since their 1987 debut. The cover of their latest, İlle Kavga (which roughly means “struggle no matter what”), shows instruments they allege were smashed up by police during a raid last year on the cultural centre the group use.